Preserving my children’s innocence is an act of preserving white supremacy

“Having a child is like wearing your heart on your sleeve.” 

I’ve heard several different versions of this colloquialism and since becoming a mother myself, I can confirm this feeling as true. My natural instinct is to fiercely protect and guard my children from any harm, mental or physical. Acknowledging that my children will not escape experiences of pain in their life often overwhelms me and leaves me feeling anxious.

Yet, in all likelihood, the pain my children will experience will be considered rites of passage: broken bones, friendship woes, first love and first heartbreak, not getting into their dream college.

I don’t pretend to be able to predict the future, so admittedly I have no clue what lives my children will lead. However, my racial and class privilege make my children exempt from many of the worries that parents of color, low-income parents and parents within marginalized populations must face with regards to their children on top of the parental concerns we universally share.

My children will not be racially profiled as they play in our neighborhood.

My children will not fear the police.

My children will see themselves represented in books, media and educational narratives.

I could go on, but the point is the world we live in centers and celebrates my children. As I’ve come to understand this truth and see its far reach in our day-to-day life, I’ve realized something else: when I shield my children from injustice in the name of preserving their innocence, what I’m actually preserving is white supremacy.

Another familiar colloquialism is “let kids be kids.” But of course, not all kids are granted this privilege. Tamir Rice certainly was not afforded this privilege. Trayvon Martin was not afforded this privilege. Dajerria Becton was not afforded this privilege. The Black and brown children racially profiled on my neighborhood listserves are not afforded this privilege.

I want my children to explore, play and enjoy the world around them. I also want them to understand that injustice exists. If I am unwilling to unveil how systems of oppression work, I’m playing into the notion that my children’s innocence is more fragile and more important than other children who do not have the option to have their innocence preserved. White supremacy lives on through this choice.

But your children are only 2 and 4, you might say. True. Good thing there are many actions I can take right now that are both developmentally appropriate and plant the seeds for more in-depth discussions and discourse in the future! Thanks to Raising Race Conscious Children, I’ve been able to identify research-based strategies to talk about race and racism with my children. I’m also currently taking a course called Raising An Advocate that’s helping me think through the ways my various privileges affect my parenting choices.

The first step was to buy books and toys with diverse representation and then use these products to name race openly and honestly. My kids can name their whiteness as well as identify other skin tones as we read books or play games. Both of my children now bring up race proactively, albeit in different ways. My 4-year-old will notice someone’s skin color and make connections to other people in his life that have similar skin tone. My 2-year-old will put her arm beside mine and say “both peachy!”

After the foundation of naming race was set, I began to talk about injustice through the lens of unfairness. These conversations remain short and again, we use books and games to provide context.

For instance, over the summer there was a day of collective action in support of Black Lives Matter following the shootings of Alton Sterling and Philando Castille. We were on vacation, but I brought several books with us, including Click, Clack, Moo (a hilarious story about barnyard animals who go on strike to achieve improved living conditions) as well as Amazing Grace, (a moving story about a young Black girl who overcomes sexism and racism to land the part of Peter Pan in her classroom play). I used these books to name race and discuss the protests happening around the country.

I said something like, “many people are angry and sad because people with brown and black skin are treated differently by police and that’s not fair. When people protest they are saying, ‘I don’t like that!’ and are working to make change.”

Naming race and naming injustice with my children are direct actions I can take right now to begin to dismantle white supremacy. I no longer want to preserve their innocence as this preserves the status quo.

Recently, I heard a person say the work we do inside our families is the ultimate grassroots organizing. Yes! The choices I make as a parent matters. The anti-racist work I do within the context of my family can affect powerful change.

What’s your take? Are you ready to stop preserving your child’s innocence and start dismantling white supremacy?

This post has been edited after receiving important feedback from readers. I did not intend to conflate race with poverty, but rather discuss how my racial and class privilege affect my parenting and family. I have removed the sentences I now understand were problematic.

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20 thoughts on “Preserving my children’s innocence is an act of preserving white supremacy

  1. Leslie Kavananaugh says:

    This is great, Shannon. As another mom of white children, this hits home. I’m working on trying to answer my 4yo’s questions about what he hears on the news (NPR) in the car on our drive home. Rather than dismissing or distracting him, I try to give an age-appropriate answer that names and acknowledges race and justice, framing it in the language of practicing empathy and kindness.

    Like

  2. JC says:

    I find your view equally disturbing as the view of white supremacist. Apply a thesis to an extreme which will only empower the opposing position. Your approach is equally wrong. What is needed is compassion for the human race. Not some people but all people. If you see a group of people faced with potential death and have opportunity to save half of them are you going to judge based on what others might think of you if you happen to not save a black person? The fact that you are thinking in that way at all is contributing to hate platform you so much advocate against. This idea slowing down the race to let the rest of the pack catch up is so shockingly simple minded for a educated person like yourself. Are you willing to trade your house with a family living in poor neighborhood? That is the real question, are you willing to give up something TODAY. You appear to be making sure your daughter has reduced self esteem so you are indeed volunteering her but what about you. What are you willing to give up today? Thats what I thought.

    Liked by 2 people

    1. Rena says:

      I’m not sure what article you read, but she is not advocating “slowing down the race.” Where did you get that? Your whole response seems like you are having an imaginary argument. She is teaching her kids to notice, name injustice, have empathy, compassion, and to advocate for people.

      Liked by 1 person

  3. Colin Stokes says:

    I’m happy to read this. When I started to wrestle with how much “childhood innocence” for white people is a euphemism for entitlement to privilege, I felt like telling the truth would be, I don’t know, mean. It reminded me of the convoluted lying we do to create holiday magic (Santa, Easter Bunny, etc.). Here’s a talk I gave about it if anybody wants to explore another take on this topic: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=FoeRoAchf9g

    Liked by 1 person

  4. Megan @ Empathic Parenting says:

    This is a wonderful, thoughtful, helpful piece. I’m a mama and therapist, and I started a blog last winter when I was appalled to see what I perceive as an insidious lack of empathy in the U.S. Social justice begins with our children, and it’s one of the most important values we can model for them. So glad to have found your blog!

    Liked by 1 person

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